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I take all the credit for my husband realizing his dream. No, but really, I met this lovely girl named Kate through prison book club. She was not an inmate but a volunteer. I met her for coffee to prep for her first steps into Perryville Prison, and she mentioned she worked at an organic farm.

My husband, Jake, was totally into farming at the time. Well, I mean, he liked growing things in our backyard. I even bought him a couple classes at Desert Botanical Gardens just so he could see, for sure, what he thought of this whole planting things in the ground thing.

I asked Kate if I could bring Jake by to see Blue Sky Organic Farms, just for a visit. Jake started volunteering out there: Jake, the nuclear engineer who worked at a huge facility called Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. The reason I have power to use my computer? Yeah, Palo Verde.

Jake was Navy for nine years. Then, he came to Charleston, South Carolina, met me, and um, married me. (Grin.) We moved together to Phoenix, because he got the job offer at Palo Verde, and he seemed fine, for awhile, until he found Blue Sky.

Blue Sky Organic Farms is a family-owned small business in the West Valley of Phoenix, right at the base of the beautiful White Tank Mountains. Jake loved volunteering out there. He loved his coworkers: David, Sara, RJ, Michelle, and of course, Kate—the one who opened the door in the first place.

It took several months for total discontent to set in. My husband, who had done the same thing since the age of eighteen, suddenly didn’t want to be in the nuclear business anymore. He wanted to be a farmer.

We started small: five chickens in our backyard. Veggie garden. Then, he took the leap and, while still working at Palo Verde, raised and slaughtered over a hundred pasture-raised, organic chickens. (You may recall this, via The Chicken Incident.)

The talks began soon after, the questions for me: What if I quit my job and become a farmer? What if we sell our huge, unnecessary house? Do you think your parents are going to freak out? Yadda yadda yadda … until it became real.

Sunday night was Jacob Bauer’s last night at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Our house is under contract, and we’re looking at rentals near Blue Sky. His first official day as “Farmer Jake” was Monday, and I’m thrilled that my husband has finally found his dream. He not only found it, but he is going after it.

People ask me if I’m nervous: less money, less stability, my loving husband possibly infringing on my OCD writer routine. Yes, I’m nervous. I’m a depressive introvert with an anxiety disorder who needs structure. (Wow, embarrassing when I write it out like that.)

There are times when everything is fine, when I have complete faith that God is running things and I have nothing to worry about. There are nights, though, when I can’t sleep. There are days when I feel like I can’t breathe.

Then, I remember: I’ve had the pleasure of spending most of my adult life living my dream, being a writer. Jake has been trapped in a job out of habit. How amazing that he has finally, at thirty-two, found exactly what he wants to be. He deserves this, and this brings comfort, because when I see Jake smile, I smile, too.

Will there be the occasional panic attack from his dear wifey? Yes. This is huge. This is terrifying. Still, Jake has felt all along that God was leading him. God is leading him; it’s what God does. Jake and I just have to have faith and love each other.

Whatever happens—however many meltdowns I may have—I am now a farmer’s wife, and I have never been more proud of the man I married.

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Thanks to Urban Dictionary, I can better explain steampunk. (Ah-hem.) Steampunk literature “is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan, ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’”

AH! See, I get it now! I didn’t get it until I got the chance to read my very first steampunk novel, The Clockwork Dagger by Arizona author Beth Cato. There was some further confusion when I realized a “clockwork dagger” is not actually a shiny knife covered in Rolexes. Nay, a clockwork dagger is one of the queen’s spies and assassins. But I’m really getting ahead of myself.

Octavia Leander was orphaned as a child but brought up under the tutelage of Miss Percival, who taught Octavia to be a medician, otherwise known as a “healer.” Octavia showed extreme promise. That’s because she’s a super-duper medician, devoted to the Lady: a higher power personified by a mysterious, lost Tree.

BethCato-steampunk-headshot300x450When Octavia comes of age, she is sent on a journey. She will take an airship and become the medician of a small town far away from Miss Percival and Octavia’s upbringing. Octavia is excited at the chance to save people and travel. Her excitement is heightened as she boards her airship and meets hottie-hot steward Alonzo Garrett (who has a secret). Octavia is also tailed by the overly friendly Mrs. Stout (who has some big secrets of her own).

Octavia’s trip is interrupted first by a swarm of mechanical gremlins, one of whom she befriends and names “Leaf.” (I love Leaf!) Then, Octavia’s life is threatened. It would appear someone wants her dead. Her brush with death brings her ever closer to the charming Alonzo. (Yum.) Together, they must figure out why someone would want to kill Octavia. Does it have to do with the rebels who fight against the Queen? Is a clockwork dagger perhaps aboard the ship?

Cato knows how to write, and hey, that’s saying something in a literary world oversaturated with young adult melodrama. She has created a well-rounded, detailed world. I’m especially fond of Octavia’s medician powers, as well as Octavia’s faithful, unquestioning devotion to the Lady. Oh, and Octavia’s outfit! She wears this all-white dress that soaks in stains. (I need one.)

The Clockwork Dagger is action-packed from page one, and the conflict moves along swimmingly and with ease. In fact, even the reader is conflicted. For one, who are we to trust: the rebels or the Queen’s men? Is the Lady as all-powerful and loving as Octavia might think? When is Octavia going to KISS ALONZO? See? Conflict.

This is a book about serious problems, but Cato doesn’t take herself too seriously. There are moments of laughter and romance. There’s nothing depressing about Clockwork Dagger. In fact, I left this book hungry for more. Thankfully, there’s a sequel already in the works. I highly suggest this thrilling debut—my first foray into steampunk—and a welcome addition to an ever-expanding, interesting genre.

For more about Beth, visit http://bethcato.com or just head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Clockwork Dagger now.

BethCato-HCVBeth Cato writes about wild adventures on airships. She writes about mechanical gremlins and sexy (sexy) stewards with long hair. She is a Steampunk Goddess. She is also soft-spoken, beautiful, and fond of spending time with neurotic other writers, namely me.

Our husbands set Beth and I up on a blind date over a year ago, because we were both “artists.” We fell into friendship easily, because indeed, we were both “artists” with quite a lot in common (including a love for British TV). When the news came that her debut, The Clockwork Dagger, had been picked up by Harper Voyager, I was one of the first to hear … and REJOICE! I mean, seriously, if there ever was a reason for celebration!

The Clockwork Dagger will be published September 16, but because I “know people” (um, Beth), I got a look at an ARC. My full review will be posted Thursday, but in the meantime, take a gander behind the red curtain and learn more about a girl who’s about to take steampunk by storm.

An H and Five Ws with Debut Steampunk Author Beth Cato

How did you come up with the world of Clockwork Dagger?

A number of years ago, I wrote a steampunk story I was unable to sell. A while later, I was trying to figure out a new novel concept and I hit on the idea of doing Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but on an airship with a healer as the main character. I decided to use the same world from that old short story, though I had barely developed it there. The characters from that story do show up briefly in my novel as well.

Who is your favorite character in your novel?

Oh, that’s such a hard question. I have to say Mrs. Stout. She’s inspired by one of my favorite television characters of all time, Mrs. Slocombe on the British comedy Are You Being Served? Mrs. Stout is a fifty-something woman with a loud voice, loud hair, and loud clothes, but as vibrant as she is, she carries some terrible secrets. She’s so over-the-top with her mannerisms that she’s a delight to write.

ClockworkDagger_PB_Final1What is the best thing about being a writer? Worst thing?

Best thing, no question, is seeing people react emotionally to my writing. If I can make someone cry or feel angry or cheer out loud, it’s the most amazing thing in the world. The worst thing … rejection. Always rejection. Soon enough, I’ll have that in the form of harsh reader reviews, too. I fear my skin will never be thick enough to deal well with that.

Where have you felt most inspired?

I took a cruise to Alaska last summer. One morning, our ship traveled through the fjords to view a glacier. I sat by our open balcony door and wrote in my journal and read a book. We then did a day trip by bus and train from Skagway up into British Columbia. I breathed in that crisp air, as if I could store it in my lungs as long as possible. I knew I needed to write about characters going to these places. In my next book, I hope to do just that, though it will be hard for words to do justice to that wild beauty.

When (if ever) have you wanted to give up on writing?

I have an urban fantasy novel that I wrote and rewrote and wrote again. It was near and dear to my heart. The problem was, I worked on it for ages but I never had anyone critique it an an early stage. When that finally happened, the feedback was devastating. The book, quite simply, did not work. You can’t accept all critiques (some people are just plain wrong) but I knew this person was right.

I spent about three days in a horrible depression. I could barely eat or sleep. I really debated if I should completely give up, but then the next question was, “What am I going to do if I don’t write?” I couldn’t think of anything else. So, I figured, I need to fix this book. I need to prove I can write. I tore the novel apart. I rewrote it yet again. I had it critiqued by a whole group of people. Six months later, that novel is what snared my literary agent.

Why steampunk fantasy?

Adding magic and mythological creatures in with history makes things fresh. I made things a little easier on myself by setting the novel off Earth, so I didn’t need to rely on strict historical details, though a lot of World War I-era research still went into it. I had the chance to think about so many what-ifs: “What if battlefield medical wards could use healing magic alongside standard surgery? What could limit that magic? What if your enemy in trench warfare had fire magic … and airships?”

Airships in particular are a trademark of steampunk. I was obsessive about making them as realistic as possible. I based the principal airship in my book on the infamous Hindenburg, down to the room descriptions and the angles of the promenade windows. For me, those historical details make it more real and believable, even with the heavy reliance on magic. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write and to read!

Learn more about Beth at http://www.bethcato.com, and look forward to my review of The Clockwork Dagger Thursday!

So how do you write a novel in 41 days? Real answer: I have no idea. But here’s my best guess. See, I wrote a short story two months ago called “I Like Your Neck.” It was about an awkward newbie vampire named Celia who falls in love with the smell of her neighbor’s blood. I sent the story off to a magazine, and the editor wrote me back. She said the story was great, but they couldn’t use it. Furthermore, she said “I Like Your Neck” should really be a novel.

At the time, I was disgruntled, because I’d just given up on a novel, and I really didn’t want to dedicate another six months on several thousand words that would surely suck my energy and soul. I gave it some thought but didn’t take the comment seriously until I mentioned the suggestion to one of my first readers, Dan, who responded: “Well, of course it should be a novel.”

Well, shit.

I started writing “Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary” in late May, and I finished it yesterday. Nobody is as shocked as me. I’ve never written a full-length novel so quickly before, which made me wonder: what made this one so easy? And don’t say, “It’s obviously just a piece of crap,” because it isn’t. I know it’s only a first draft, but I think “Bite Somebody” is really good.

In honor of my completed manuscript, I offer you some ideas on how to write something you love—and write it fast.

1. Love your setting.
I want to live on a beach, but I don’t. I live in a desert. That said, every April, I meet my Aunt Susie on Longboat Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida. There, we lay on the beach, swim, and drink rum punches. In order to spend more time in Florida, I set “Bite Somebody” on the fictional Admiral Key and therefore got to spend 41 days living on the beach with Celia. Because of her beach habitation, I woke up every morning wanting to go back to work—in a way, go back on vacation.

sleeping gull

2. Know your song.
Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is the theme song to “Bite Somebody.” This might give you some idea as to what kind of vampire novel I’ve written. No one’s sultry. There are very few deep thoughts. Plus, Bob Marley is beachy, and in a book involving the beach, a hot ex-surfer, and Mary Jane, no song fit better. Every morning, before I opened Word, I listed to Bob. If I ever felt my attention waning, I listened to Bob. Bob was my anthem.

3. Love your lead.
Celia is a recovering fat kid, turned by a male vampire in a drunken stupor due to her red hair. She is obsessed with 80s movies and works at an all-night gas station called “Happy Gas.” She has no self-confidence, and her favorite film is Pretty Woman. (She dreams of being rescued by her own white knight.) Celia falls in love with the scent of her new neighbor, Ian Hasselback, and as she fights for fang control, she is shocked by his attentions. The Hot Guy has never liked her before. I wrote “Bite Somebody” as Celia’s journal, so I got to talk like her for 72,000 words. She says things no one should, and she’s painfully awkward. She’s basically me off medication. How freeing to write all the things I keep to myself! Talk about catharsis!

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4. Love your romantic interest.
Ian Hasselback: ex-champion surfer, pothead, computer nerd, and really nice guy. He’s an accurate portrayal of my husband if he’d been hit in the head a lot as a kid. I’m not saying Ian’s dumb; he’s just chill. He’s funny, too, and he finds Celia to be fascinating. Let’s be honest: I have a huge crush on Ian. I think this is key to writing romance. If you don’t love your romantic interest, why should your lead character? Although I loved playing the voice of Celia, I loved being with Ian. He’s fun to hang out with … and the sex scenes weren’t bad either.

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5. Laugh a lot.
This conclusion is directed to people writing comedy. I don’t want you to laugh a lot if you’re writing, like, Gone with the Wind, redux. The writers of Sex and the City used to sit together in one room and type. They would read each other lines, and if they couldn’t make each other choke on coffee, the scene wasn’t worth it. That’s how it went with “Bite Somebody.” If I wasn’t making myself laugh—loud, freakish guffaws—I cut the scene and started over. I’ve never written a book this funny before, and it kept me coming back, no matter my mood, because if I felt down, I’d feel up by the time I had a couple paragraphs under my belt.

stoned

6. Know the ending.
I knew the last line before I started page one of “Bite Somebody.” This sounds dubious, I know, but it’s true. I therefore knew exactly where I had to go, and I looked forward to it with every passing page. Every page led up to a final line, and I was excited to reach that final line. I always think about Michael Douglas in Wonderboys—how he couldn’t finish his manuscript because he “couldn’t stop.” Know your beginning, middle, and end. That way, you can stop eventually and enjoy the ride to the end of the line.

“Bite Somebody” will now be scrutinized by my meanest critic: me. Once I’ve done a read-through, Celia and Ian go out to my first readers. God help us. And happy writing to you!

I entered this model search on a whim. I got an email about it, and thought, no, thanks. Then, I looked at the past winners … and none of them looked like me. In fact, most of them were about nineteen and blond. For shame! So I entered. I like to think I represent the over thirty, non-blond, quirky demographic.

Now, I made one mistake. I didn’t realize there was an open casting call where you get 1000 free votes for just showing up. This means I’ll come nowhere close to winning, which is fine. I’m just glad my face is up there in the running, looking different. Different is good.

If you’d like to give me your vote, please do! Head over to the AZ Face of Foothills site and vote here. If you’re up for it, there are some other over thirty folk and some MEN, which is cool. Vote for them, too. Spread the love of different.

Oh, and PS: You can vote as many time as you want, so if you’re bored at work, keep pushing that button.

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1469a00fa4b6e1cc37e6620e88533c1fBenedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch is a thirty-seven-year-old British actor who closely resembles either an otter or space alien. I’m really not sure if he was even considered mildly good-looking until 2010, when he premiered as title character Sherlock in the BBC’s modern adaptation.

Co-creators of the show Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have famously been interviewed as saying the BBC didn’t think Cumberbatch was sexy enough to play Sherlock. Now, oddly enough, he’s considered one of the sexiest men on Earth, with a trove of maniac fans known as “Cumberbitches.”

Empire Magazine listed him number one in their list of 100 sexiest movie stars. He made Glamour Magazine’s list, too. Oh, and number one in the British Sun (two years in a row). In response to this, Cumberbatch says, “I enjoy being considered handsome, even though I think it’s hysterical.”

Do I think he’s good-looking? Yes. God, yes. (See obsessive Pinterest board.) That’s right, folks. Embarrassing as it is, I’m a member of Benedict’s maniac fanbase. And it is kind of embarrassing. When I was a kid, I had this thing for Brad Pitt (posters on the wall, signing my name “Sara Pitt”). I haven’t had that kind of obsession again until now, and I’m thirty-two and married.

What does this have to do with my career? Since getting to know Mr. Cumberbatch via BBC’s Sherlock, he has inspired countless fictional characters in my work, most notably in “Don’t Ball the Boss,” soon to be published by Stoneslide Corrective.

When he got his Emmy nomination.

When he got his Emmy nomination.

The TV show inspired me to write fan fiction, as well. I’ve written five pieces of Sherlock fan fiction and have been shocked by the overwhelming response.

I’ve had women and men send me emails requesting more, more! They shout to the rafters that I should be published immediately. My Twitter following has possibly doubled. In fact, I once found my name mentioned in a Twitter conversation involving no less than six Cumberbitches. When I chimed in, one of them tweeted, “It’s her! It’s HER!” as if I were a celebrity.

My stories get upwards of two hundred hits per day. As writers, we very rarely get such immediate praise and develop such a fast following. Benedict Cumberbatch has unknowingly made me famous.

But the actor is more than creative inspiration. This is going to sound sappy, but he’s a life inspiration, as well. He was almost killed after being kidnapped in South Africa, but due to this terrifying experience, he just says he learned “not to sweat the small stuff. And just enjoy the ride of being alive.”

Apparently, he’s impossible to interview, because he’s like a fish with a shiny object. He’s easily distracted, due to his overwhelming enthusiasm. According to GQ writer Stuart McGurk, “I feel, compared with Cumberbatch, like someone going through existence with the contrast dial turned down. To him, it seems, everything is neon bright. The barbs may sting more sharply, but his sun must shine that much brighter.”

Taking pictures with fans.

Taking pictures with fans.

Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman said, “He’s sweet and generous in an almost childlike way. I could take advantage of him playing cards.” Other male co-stars seem to have developed complete bromances with Benedict (Michael Fassbender and Zach Quinto, for example).

Cumberbatch admitted recently that he’s seeing a therapist to deal with his new fame, and he admitted this with no shame, saying mental health should be more openly discussed.

In everything he does, he seems exuberant, fun loving (see U2 photo bomb), and incredibly polite. He worships his fans, and he says “thank you” every five minutes, even in the middle of the Oscar’s red carpet. When I said earlier he looks like an alien, he might really be an alien, because no human being can possibly be so damn sweet!

This is what I mean when I say life inspiration.

The man’s behavior, even as he has become a superstar, is jaw dropping. He has yet to go the way of Bieber or Lohan—stars who got famous and lost their shit. Instead, Cumberbatch has become more gracious, and according to Steven Moffat, “better looking the more famous he gets.”

Today, I say thank you to someone I’ve never met and will probably never meet, because unknowingly (and over and over), he has inspired me, made me laugh, and made me want to be a better person. He has improved my career (something even I never saw coming). And it all started while watching PBS, when I thought, “Wow, that man has great hair.”

Bromance dancing with Fassbender.

Bromance dancing with Fassbender.

Solarcide is known as the Home of Weird Fiction, a gallery of the dark and dangerous. What an honor to be considered such. What an even bigger honor to be their featured author for June 2014! Feast your eyes on the opening paragraphs of my noir thriller, “The Youngest Brother,” and follow the link at the end to read the full story at Solarcide.

The Youngest Brother
by Sara Dobie Bauer

drink

In the crowded bar, it was easy to spot the man who’d just lost his father, come straight from the funeral to forget as much. He looked gentle, quiet. The youngest of four brothers, he was a senior at Harvard, where he attended as a history major, of all the wasteful things. He had not been admitted to the prestigious university thanks to his father’s funding, which was sizeable, but on the basis of his own intellect.

Of the four brothers, she considered him the second most handsome, shadowed only by the eldest—the man who’d hired her.

Yes, she easily pulled the young man from the crowd of posh academics, near as they were to the university where he studied. Not that he looked very different; on the contrary, he was clean-shaven and in an expensive, black suit. Expensive? She recognized those sorts of things; considered those sorts of things part of her job. Knowing the cut of a man’s suit said a lot about him, and she was all about knowing.

For instance, take the mournful youngest brother at the bar: simple black meant he wasn’t showy, didn’t have a big ego, not like the men who wore suits with silver pinstripes or slick, red ties. Thin lapels meant modern, not retro, so he didn’t look to the past for respite. Finally, the suit was slimly cut, snugly tailored, which meant someone who was used to movement—someone in good shape, athletic.

Of course, she cheated on all accounts. She knew these things about the young man; his brother had told her. She knew he was intelligent and subdued. She knew he swam laps every night at six PM, and his name was Duncan Sadler.

She had arranged to be surrounded by people that night so as not to arouse suspicion. Being an attractive woman, alone in a bar, playing pool, only attracted attention from men, and there was only one man she planned on talking to at the Sphinx, Duncan Sadler’s bar of choice. She knew that about him, too.

Her so-called friends, more like acquaintances, were in on it, in her same profession. They understood the need to blend in, so they all played pool together until someone won. Then, she took a sip of beer. With her eyes, she told them she was going in and didn’t need their backup anymore.

It had all been arranged; once she struck up the youngest Sadler in conversation, her friends would leave, say they were going somewhere else. She could play the lonely damsel card, if only long enough to get Duncan to the alley.

(So what happens to Duncan Sadler? Find out at Solarcide!)

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